Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

French and Francophone World Studies

First Advisor

Laronde, Michel

First Committee Member

Curtius, Anny

Second Committee Member

Curto, Roxanna

Third Committee Member

Ganim, Russell

Fourth Committee Member

Racevskis, Roland


“Identity” constitutes one of the most debates theoretical concepts in the domain of postcolonial studies. Scholars often have a historical perspective for examining the question of identity in contemporary literary works. In fact, in the last three decades of the 20th century, we notice a significant increase in the number of literary works of an autobiographical and biographical nature. In the contemporary literature, the predominance of “personal narratives” in which reflect on identity, could be attributed to the heightened sense of individuality, which in turn results from the failure of Grand Ideologies, the mass migrations triggered by the processes of decolonization, the alienation of the consumerist society, and the fundamental redefinition of gender roles in the latter half of the 20th century.

But during this period, there is also a parallel epistemological shift that takes place, and which is sometimes downplayed in the historical approach of the postcolonial studies. The episode in the history of ideas, known as “the death of the Subject,” is commonly associated with the structuralist movement in the 1950s and 60s. Structuralists argued that the human mind is traversed by omnipresent structures that play a much more significant role in the creative process than the conscious mind. In the case of language for example, it is not we who make use of the language, but rather, it is the language that evolves and produces itself through our mental structures. With language, human agency is also questioned in literary creation. As a result, literary critics take issue with such notions as “self,” and “self-writing,”-or autobiography. In France, the New Novel was the locus for the literary representation of structuralist theories, and played an important role in the formalist movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Using various techniques, the New Novelists sought to annihilate the anthropocentric narration or otherwise underscore the passive experience of reality by the Subject. The result was a highly formalist type of novels, predominant in the 50s and 60s, drawing mostly an elite intellectual readership.

But May 1968 events marked a departure from the structuralist ideology in general, and the literary esthetics of the New Novel in particular. This political, social, and cultural upheaval in France was a ramification of the global student movement against institutional apparatuses and different forms of political establishment. In France, it was also a reaction to the elitist academism that denied the “human,” and to a literary expression that negated individuals and their personal stories. May 1968 protests objected to the monopoly of elite institutions on discourse and knowledge, and that they aspired to a “democratization” of discourse. The increase in the number of autobiographical and biographical works after 1970s, could therefore be viewed as a dialectical response to the formalism of the New Novel.

This epistemological shift opened up the discursive space for narratives of “self” and “identity.” These narratives document a highly subjective experience of reality in a rapidly-changing world. Most importantly, they reflect the preoccupations of the contemporary individual as well as the transformations of the social life, and as such, narratives of family, exile, sexuality, and quotidian abound. The personalization of the experience goes so far as to call into question the very meaning of reality and History, and thus the “referential” genres autobiography and biography are new writing practices “autofiction” and “biofiction” which maintain an ambiguous rapport with the referential reality.


Autofiction, Biofiction, Contemporary, French, May 1968, Novel


vii, 163 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 156-163).


Copyright © 2018 Seyed Farzad Salamifar